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HOW ELECTION 2K GOT DECIDED! Major scribes borked Gore in New Hampshire. Once again, other scribes didnt tell:
TUESDAY, AUGUST 6, 2002
UNMENTIONED AGAIN: By the time of the New Hampshire primary, the press corps remarkable borking of Gore had reached a state of full fury. In the aftermath of Gores defeat of Bradley, Josh Marshall offered a lengthy assessment of the Granite State fight. His piece appeared in the February 28 American Prospect:
MARSHALL (2/28/00): Since late last fall, Gore has repeatedly charged that Bradley would abolish Medicaid without providing sufficient funds for current Medicaid recipients to purchase coverage under Bradleys plan. Gores charge is so effective because its true. Rather than offering specific refutation of Gores charge, Bradleys top staffers take umbrage at the thought that Bill Bradley would ever leave Medicaid patients in the lurch. Bradley and his advisers seem to be asking for a pass on the details, a special pleading for their mans big ideas.
Gores critique did seem to have merit. How accurate did his claims seem to be? On November 5, 1999, Newsdays Ken Fireman reported a remarkable interview with Bradleys own chief health-care adviser, Margy Heldring. The nugget: Heldring acknowledged in an interview with Newsday that the campaigns cost estimate of $55 billion to $65 billion a year is based on an assumption about the price of insurance that probably would prove too low when the plan was actually implemented, Fireman reported. Heldring had discussed the subsidies Bradley would use in place of Medicaid. [S]he acknowledges that the subsidies will fall short next year and even shorter in 2001, the earliest the plan could take effect if Bradley is elected and persuades Congress to approve it. According to Fireman, Heldring said that the gap between the subsidy and the actual cost of coverage would eventually require either a higher subsidyand thus a higher overall cost for the programor an acceptance of the fact that significantly fewer uninsured people would obtain coverage. She said the campaign has not done quantitative estimates for either of those options.
In short, early on in the health care debate, Bradleys leading health adviser agreed with the substance of Gores primary charge. And Heldring wasnt the only Bradley adviser who acknowledged that Gores complaints might be valid. On November 11, the New York Times Bob Herbert quoted David Cutler, professor of economics at Harvard and a health care adviser to the Bradley campaign. According to Herbert, Cutler said that he expected the caps to be raised, that the
vouchers to be given to poor people would be increased to better reflect the market. This, of course, implied the accuracy of Gores critiquethat Bradleys plan would cost more than he said. And on November 19, Jill Zuckman of the Boston Globe quoted John McDonough, a former state representative from Boston who teaches health care policy at Brandeis University and is supporting Bradley for president. Said McDonough: It appears that some significant portions of the Bradley plan have not been completely thought through.
In short, it seemed fairly clear, from early on, that Gores critique had merit. But by now, the Washington press corps was pathologically invested in making Al Gore a Big Liar. And so, over the course of the next three months, major pundits kept insisting that Gore was lying about Bradleys plan. Predictably, Heldrings remarkable Newsday interview found its way down the memory hole; a NEXIS search reveals no instance in which her interview was cited by a reporter or pundit. The result? In the closing weeks of the Granite State race, major pundits asserted, again and again, that Gore was lying about Bradleys plan. David Broder was especially demagogic in two nasty columns which slandered Gores character. Richard Cohen and Walter Shapiroaggressively playing it dumb in their own health care argumentsdidnt trail too far behind.
So theres good news and bad news about Marshalls report. The good news: Marshall reported what seems to be true, that Gores critique was correct on the merits. (By the end of New Hampshire, a number of scribes had begun to acknowledge that Gores critique had been right. Most were now content to pretend that Gore was lying about abortion.) But again, Marshall said nothing in his piece about the battering Gore had received in the press. To be sure, he had no obligation to discuss the corps oddball conduct. But once again, the press corps remarkable borking of Gore went unchallenged, unacknowledged, unexamined, unremarked. Why do major pundits sometimes behave demagogically? Because they know that no oneno onewill ever comment. We do not offer this as a criticism of Marshall. But once again, the borking of Gore was allowed to stand without Word the First of complaint.
What was happening in New Hampshire? As Roger Simon had colorfully said back in June, the press corps was putting Gore through the hoops (see THE DAILY HOWLER 8/5/02) In our view, Democrats deserve to know the truth about how the last election was decided. In particular, they deserve to know that this election was not decided because people just didnt warm to Gore.
HOW ABSURD WAS IT? The crowning absurdity may have come from John Judis in the January 24, 2000 New Republic. Plainly, Judis agreed with the things Gore had said. When he offered his summary of the health care debate, he found Bradleys plan badly wanting:
JUDIS: Bradleys plan would replace Medicaid, but it doesnt appear to offer comparable benefits. It also seems to offer employers an incentive to stop insuring their employees. And, as quickly became apparent, it would cost almost double what Bradley claimedeating up almost the entire budget surplus and making it impossible...for Bradley to offer any other big initiatives. Bradleys staff warned him about the programs projected costs, but he didnt listen. He went ahead with his big idea. Gore immediately went on the attack, and Bradleys replies verged on incomprehensible.
Clearly, Judis thought Gore was right on the merits; indeed, he baldly disparaged Bradleys performance. According to Judis, Bradley didnt listen when warned about his plans defects, and his subsequent replies to Gore verged on incomprehensible. (For the record, Bradleys replies also verged on outright dissembling.) But incredibly, even as he painted a picture of Bradleys misfeasance, it was Gore whose character Judis disparaged. Was Gore praised for noting the problems in Bradleys plan? No, Judis went on to criticize Gores brutal assault on Bradley, sayingin a world-class left-handed complimentthat his ruthless new strategy has worked with the voters. The press corps war on Gore had reached a very strange state indeed. Even here, when Gore was judged to be right on the merits, he was described as brutal and ruthless for stating them. Meanwhile, Judis didnt say a word about Bradleys conduct, although Bradley had called Gore a liar for months, making claims about his plan which Judis now said were inaccurate.
Of course, it was a transgression against all press corps etiquette to suggest that Bradley might be misbehaving. A comical moment occurred on December 19, 1999, when Gore and Bradley locked horns on Meet the Press. By this time, Bradley was openly calling Gore a liar. Tim Russert seemed eager to air the charge. He opened with a softball for Bill:
RUSSERT: Senator Bradley, let me start with you. Health care. You have been on the receiving end of Vice President Gores attacks over the last few weeks, questioning your plan, how to pay for it. Your campaign in New Hampshire responded with a flyerIll put it on the screenwhich talked about the disease of Gore-itis. The symptoms: uncontrollable lying. The medication: truth serum. The patient: Vice President Al Gore. Specifically, what has Al Gore said about your health-care plan that is a distortion or a lie?
There was no loaded language in that balanced question about the vice presidents ceaseless attacks. And surely, the gods on Olympus rocked with laughter at Bradleys surprising reply:
BRADLEY: I do think that there have been some misrepresentations, one of which relates to the total cost of the program. The program will cost between $55 billion and $65 billion a year. I think that is the most significant change indistortion.
Comical, isnt it? Six weeks earlier, Heldring acknowledged that Bradleys plan was going to cost more than advertised. But now, Bradley told Russert that this very claim was Gores most significant distortion! Russerts reaction? He didnt mention Heldring or Cutler, or other experts who agreed with Gores claim. Nor did he ever ask Gore to respond. By now, the corps great theme was AL GORE, LIAR, with Bradley cast as the straight-talking challenger. No oneno onewas going to say that Bradley might be blowing big smoke.
Democrats, so it went as the dysfunctional Washington press corps made a joke of your White House election. When this cohorts tribunes tell you strange tales about how this election was won and lost, we incomparably advise you once again: Be careful. And consider the source.